La Blécherette, Lausanne’s airfield (or aérodrome in French), recently turned 100. To mark this very special anniversary, three days of air-related events were organised in Lausanne on 26 to 28 August 2011. Unfortunately, because of the bad weather on Friday evening, the airshow that had been scheduled above Lac Léman at Ouchy had to be cancelled — the weather was so bad that in fact some of the vintage planes from abroad that had been scheduled to take part in the airshow felt it safer not to fly to Lausanne!
A bit of history
In 1910, a pilot from Geneva, Henri Speckner, attempted to take off from the field at La Blécherette with his Blériot monoplane, but the plane only managed to perform a few leaps in the air of some 1 to 2 metres high. However, on 31 May 2011, another pilot from Geneva, Emile Taddéoli, who had taken off from Viry (in France, some 10km from Geneva) as part of the second such airshow to have been held in the Geneva region, was the first pilot to fly over Lausanne and to land at La Blécherette (which in those days was only a field used for infantry training purposes – the name La Blécherette comes from the farm that was located nearby – certainly not an ‘airfield’), winning in the process a prize for the longest distance travelled above Lac Léman (a picture of his plane is available on the website of the centenary celebrations). Interestingly, before landing at Lausanne, he almost crashed his plane on Rochers-de-Naye, having flown well beyond Lausanne because of the mist …
On the initiative of the French-speaking section of the Swiss air club (Section romande de l’Aéro-Club de Suisse), five planes landed at La Blécherette on 3 June 1911 as part of the first day of Journées Lausannoises d’Aviation (Lausanne Aviation Days), thereby making it one of the first locations in Switzerland to have been used as an airfield. The event, which took place over 3, 4 and 5 June, attracted several thousands of spectators (who paid for the privilege – the centenary airshows, for their part, were free) and was even patronised by the President of the Swiss Confederation.
Saturday centenary airshow as seen … from home
As on Saturday the weather was still very cloudy (with the occasional shower here and there) and because wifey had to take a plane to Singapore (from Zurich) the next morning (with all these chocolate plaques still having to be packed in her suitcase), we decided not to go to La Blécherette. However, I still managed to get a flavour of the Saturday event … as I was able to admire some of the airshows at a distance … i.e. from our balcony, living room and bedroom windows.
I suppose you are wondering what this is … well, this panorama shows pictures of the Breitling Wingwalkers, who describe themselves as ‘the world’s only aerobatic formation wingwalking team‘. So this little speck (most noticeable on the far left, middle and far right pictures) was in fact …. a young woman firmly strapped on the top wing of a Boeing Stearman biplane performing acrobatic postures in the sky … needless to say, the four young women who did these acrobatics on the wings of these beautiful planes from the 1930s or 40s so high above the ground are unlikely to be prone to altitude sickness! 😉 Unfortunately, I did not manage to get any better shots of this incredible show; however, some good pictures are available here and the team has a promotional video on their website.
Unsurprisingly, a unit of Patrouille Suisse, the Swiss Air Force acrobatic team, took part in the celebrations, the PC7 team, which flew Pilatus PC-7, a plane used for pilot training. Patrouille Suisse also showcased an AS332M1 Super Puma, a helicopter used mainly for transport of heavy loads or passengers (up to 18).
This picture of the PC7 team of the Swiss Air Force acrobatic team flying low above Tour de Sauvabelin illustrates the dangers of flying so low as birds are present in the sky at such low altitudes. Apparently, this may have been the cause of the recent accident at the Bournemouth Air Festival, where a Red Arrows crashed into a field, killing the pilot.
Sunday centenary airshow as seen … from La Blécherette
As I had never been to La Blécherette prior to the airshow, although I had passed nearby in a car and I had also seen the airfield from the tower at the park of Sauvabelin, I was curious to see what the place looked like when on site. So after having seen off wifey at Zurich Airport, I took a train straight back home to Lausanne and boarded bus 21.
As always, all pictures can be enlarged if you click on them.
This panorama shows the runway as seen from the bus upon arrival (with the Junker in the foreground and the white Catalina seaplane in the background preparing for take-off), an administrative building displaying the airport’s name, the air control building and the Lausanne base of Rega, the Swiss helicopter rescue service which helps thousands of people hurt in mountain, traffic or work accidents, etc every year (it is worth checking out their website before hand if you intend coming to Switzerland for some mountain climbing).
The hangar on the left was built in 1922. The door weighs some 40 tonnes.
Some of planes that were used in Switzerland for civilian or military purposes in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s (in fact, the Pilatus is still used for flight instruction purposes, unless I am mistaken). These aircraft did not take part in the airshow.
All the planes (mostly from World War II) seen parked on the tarmac and the field on the panorama above actually flew during the Sunday centenary celebrations.
The first plane I actually saw flying was a seaplane … a PBY-5A Catalina, originally built for the Canadian Air Forces, now belonging to … a French wine-maker … Strangely, the plane reminded me of a gigantic pelican, but one which would bank ever so graciously and with such ease … The plane had been scheduled to land on the lake near Ouchy on Friday evening, but the programme for Friday was cancelled owing to the bad weather.
The next plane to fly was a Junkers Ju 52, manufactured in 1943. This trimotor monoplane plane was used by the Germans to transport troops as well as tug gliders during WWII. These planes were particularly robust: the three specimens the Swiss Air Force had purchased from Nazi Germany just before the outbreak of the war remained in service until … 1981!
Reminder: all pictures can be enlarged if you click on them.
An American Mustang P51 (manufactured in 1944) landing … sorry the first picture is a little blurry.
Another view of the Mustang P51 flying above La Blécherette. Unfortunately, a similar Mustang P51 crashed at an airshow in Reno, Nevada (USA), on 16 September 2011, killing the pilot and two spectators and injuring scores of others, less than a month after the show at La Blécherette. The Reno crash also occurred less than a month after the crash of a Red Arrows Hawk T1 during the Bournemouth Air Festival (England) on 20 August 2011. Fortunately, the centenary celebrations of La Blécherette were not darkened by such a tragic accident.
The Swiss acrobatic team P3 Flyers on board of the famous Swiss aircraft Pilatus P3, designed in the 1950s, thanks to which many a pilot in the Swiss Air Forces learned to fly. Reminder: all pictures can be enlarged if you click on them.
A beautiful trail of smoke in the shape of a love heart formed by two Pilatus 3 of the team P3 Flyers above the farm of La Blécherette.
And this was my favourite bird … the plane which made such a decisive contribution to the Battle of England (although this particular one did not take part in that battle as it came out of the factory in 1944 according to the official programme) …
I was really impressed by the Spitfire’s manoeuvrability (which I was unable to catch with my camera, unfortunately) and its beautiful and highly distinctive engine hum whose pitch changes when the plane banks …
The Spitfire was joined by another British plane that made an important contribution to that country’s war efforts, the Hawker Sea Fury. The plane remained in use in some air forces until the 1960s – this one, which was manufactured in 1949, displays the emblem of the Royal Australian Navy. The speed at which both the Spitfire and Sea Fury flew was impressive given that both rely on piston-aero engines.
Some planes would fly in a particular way so as to leave behind them trails of smoke that would make up other types of ephemeral patterns in the sky…
The Royal Jordanian Falcons, which closed the show, were undoubtedly one of the highlights of the airshows put up for La Blécherette‘s centenary: their acrobatics were really breath-taking, almost frightening, as the team’s four aircraft flew in such close formation for several acrobatic figures. Bad luck for me (and also our viewers)… my Nikon Coolpix P100 let me down … you cannot imagine how angry I was at the time. However, this was partly made up for by the crew’s affability, who walked the full course of the meadow along the upper part of the airfield to chat with the public and sign autographs after their show.
One by one, these big birds then made their way to the runway and took off. I felt a little pang of sadness at seeing that (… do not forget that I had seen off the wifey at the airport the same morning). 😦
On that night, the sky above the Lausanne region gave the impression of having put on its nicest pink hues as a postscript to the wonderful airshow we had seen.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS ENTRY IS STILL NOT FINISHED. I will expand it with several more pictures (Mistubishi Zero, Alfred Comte AC 180, panorama of patrouille Reva, etc) … so please come back again. Thank you.